Eugene, Oregon has a new brewery although they are not producing their own beer yet Elk Horn Brewery is open for business with a serious menu and guest tap list. Opened by the folks behind popular local food cart Delacata the Elk Horn is a brewpub and the first on the University of Oregon campus.
Before I made it to the Elk Horn Brewing I polled the locals who were abuzz about the place with positive and negative things to say. The Elk Horn brewpub building was before them a Carls Jr. fast food restaurant and to their credit they have done a pretty good job making it look like it wasnt one, however they filled it with more stuffed animals than a carnival. It is a bit jarring walking into the modern looking big box restaurant to find yourself staring in the glassy eyes of a well preserved Black Bear. If taxidermy is your thing than Elk Horn Brewing is for you. As one Eugene local put it “It’s southern fare by way of Duck Dynasty.” Perhaps I am spending too much time talking about the decor but it’s hard to ignore when you have a full sized bobcat, outstretched arms reaching for a duck frozen in mid flight, above your table top.
Since we cannot talk about Elk Horn Brewing’s beer yet (though they are eager to start a sour barrel-aging program.) We can talk about their cider which is made at Sweet Cheeks Winery. Dan, the owner of Sweet Cheeks is an investor in Elk Horn and is providing cider and meadmaking equipment from his licensed facility. Sweet Cheeks is also providing 5 acres of their land for Elk Horn to produce their own hop field. Sour barrel-aged beer is co-owner Colleen Sheehan’s passion but after the original location they had planned fell through and they found the old Carls Jr. building it became clear that they needed a more approachable core lineup of beers with a barrel program to be built out in time. The Elk Horn brewhouse is nowhere to be seen from the pub and I am told is still a few months out from actually producing any of their own beer. Even with a dozen or so guest taps and the Elk Horn cider was also almost all nearly gone by my visit leaving one 11% Abv cider left. I was pleasantly surprised by the opaque juicy and semi-tart cider served to me and that they served me atleast a pints worth of an 11% beer. The alcohol was well hidden and it had a well rounded fruit profile with enough sweetness for most but dry enough to be drinkable. In lieu of drinking 11% cider all night I also opted for a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and a sip of wine.
The food is the real attraction at Elk Horn right now and they deserve a lot of extra credit for focusing on Southern Cajun Cuisine instead of the standard pub grub. Huge plate after huge plate was stacked on our table with everything coming out solid to damn good.
If you asked me what I thought about Elk Horn Brewing after my meal I would have said I mostly enjoyed it outside of the cheesy design and that it had a lot of potential. The food was pretty good and like I said previously there is not enough southern cajun cooking and especially not at breweries. Days later after sitting on my review and thinking about the overall experience I stand by the positives but feel much more strongly about the negatives.
Perhaps all the stuffed animals are a sly reminder of where our food comes from but something tells me that it was not done with a wink (because all of the eyes were replaced with glass). Let’s be realistic here, this is no farm to table joint and those ribs your eating came from an FSA order not a wild game hunter. Your not dining in a hunting lodge on the mountain but in an old fast food restaurant next to the largest college campus in the state. Part of me enjoys the artistry and beauty of the taxidermy like the gothic elk horn chandelier but the other part of me is disgusted by dead animals used as decoration and tacky decor at that. It rubs me as a hunting as sport sort of vibe, perhaps because of the prominent flat screen tv’s displaying sports or the faux gas fireplaces built into the wall above each booth. Or the fact that all of the food still comes out of a fast food window counter.
Either way Elk Horn Brewing is brand new and I hope to try it again with fresh eyes on my next Eugene trip when they hopefully have their own beer.
Elk Horn Brewery
686 E Broadway St
Eugene, Oregon 97401